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Life Could Be A Dream by Roger Bean – Los Angeles Theater Review

 

MAKE SURE YOU'VE BEEN PROPERLY NOURISHED BEFORE GOING

 

Life could be a dream - photo by Michael LamontTheater Review

by Tony Frankel 

published June 26, 2010 

 

Life Could Be a Dream

now playing in Los Angeles at The Hudson Mainstage 

extended through July 25

 

 “I’ve been watching what I eat,” Wally says, as he stuffs a Twinkie in his mouth.

 

“I’ve been watching what I see,” I say, as I swallow this highly caloric, nutrition-free, cream-filled sponge cake of a theatre outing.

 

Writer/director Roger Bean’s Life Could Be a Dream belongs to the current phenomenon of revues masquerading as book musicals, but this critic’s purpose is not to judge the merit of its context. There clearly is a place for this genre and Bean’s show succeeds because the content is unpretentiously sweet. Add to that a crackerjack technical team, golden talent, and nifty musical arrangements, and even the most cynical audience member will find this Twinkie completely palatable.

 

Caveat: Even though Dream is filling, this escapist fluff may not meet the needs of those who demand theatrical meat-and-potatoes for their cultural satiation. Like a good Chinese meal, you may desire more substantive fare five minutes later (although it is nothing like the grotesquery Mamma Mia!, which forced an arbitrarily indigestible book down my craw, making it all the more difficult to stomach the fun numbers therein).

 

We start in the 1960 basement of jobless Denny (affable Ryan Powers) who is hatching up an idea to form a singing group with his dipstick friend Eugene (Morgan Reynolds) so they can enter a local radio contest. And if they win the contest, they’ll become stars (which isn’t so far-fetched…you’ve seen Dreamgirls). Enter preacher’s son Wally (delightfully unassuming understudy Kevin Zak) and soon they’re a trio. Why? 50 bucks is needed to enter the contest and Wally has a contact with a mechanic who may sponsor them.

 

The mechanic’s daughter, Lois (Suzanne Petrela) shows up to see if they qualify for sponsorship. Here’s where the zany shenanigans go wild: Eugene once had his heart broken by Lois; Denny and Wally fall in love with Lois; Skip (dreamy Derek Keeling), a mechanic from Lois’s dad’s shop, joins the trio; Skip and Lois fall in love but Lois’s dad disapproves of Skip as a mate, even though he’s a darned good grease monkey!

 

Golly gosh, what’s to become of this quintet?

 

What did you think, they all die in a car crash? Hardly. (This idea isn’t so far-fetched, either, as Forever Plaid fans know. Plus, original Plaid cast member David Engel does the voiceover of the radio announcer here.)

 

OK, some of the jokes fall flat and the timing seems a bit off, but it’s a happily copasetic ending. Until then, Mr. Bean offers us no less than 25 tight renditions of classic 1960 tunes. And once the boys start buzz-buzz-buzzin’ in their primo short-sleeved, turquoise bowling shirts with faux-leopard panels, it’s downright delightful and idiotically infectious (credit Shon LeBlanc for those crazy costumes).

 

I’m totally sold on Mr. Reynold’s nerdy Eugene, all peepers and hunched shoulders. He creates a broad characterization while avoiding a Burlesque pantywaist stereotype. Miss Petrela hits a home run with her solo, “Lonely Teardrops.” Mr. Powers and Mr. Zak contribute smooth vocals and tight harmonies throughout.

 

It is Mr. Keeling’s hunky Skip that we can’t take our eyes off of. He’s a real gone cat, the love child of John Stamos and Fabian. If you’re not infatuated by his yummy rendition of “Sunday Kind of Love,” than you have no pulse.

 

The amazing Luke Moyer creates a souped-up, slick lighting design that illuminates the show like a miniature rock concert. His choice use of colors blend seamlessly and some numbers are lit like a blinking 1960’s Christmas tree. The whole show, in fact, is lit within an inch of its shelf life. Intentionally or not, computerized follow spots spill onto the house as though it was intermission and, through no fault of Mr. Moyer, some actors do not find their light.

 

Cricket S. Myers’ directional sound design is cherry – flawlessly mixing Jon Newton’s orchestral tracks with the body mikes. Is this reviewer the only one who finds it strange that body mikes are worn when the actors are no more than 40 feet from the back row? And, unfortunately for rail-thin Mr. Reynolds, the battery pack on his back seems like a giant boil.

 

Kudos to Tom Buderwitz’s keen scene: what a neat-o, detailed set. His basement rec room design is chockfull of cool castaways from a bygone era, including an Ant Farm and a poster of Forbidden Planet. I would go again just to study these artifacts.

 

Dream is a nostalgia-lover’s theatrical sugar pill, creating a placebo-effect that audiences clearly crave: it will celebrate its one-year anniversary at the end of this extension. One woman who has seen the show 13 times was handed a cupcake as a thank-you from the producers – they know what they’re serving up.

 

tonyfrankel @ stageandcinema.com

 

photo by Michael Lamont

 

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